Getting listed on the National Register of Historic Places formally recognizes a property’s historical significance to
Listing on the National Register of Historic Places formally recognizes a property’s historical significance to Route 66.
Historical designation is the foundation — or to use a roadbuilding metaphor, the subbase course — of all Route 66 advocacy and preservation.
Simply put, historical designation:
A historic register is an official record of significant older buildings, sites, structures, districts, and objects — even a neon sign. Register designation can be at the local, state, or federal level or somewhere in between. Listing (also called designation) on a register can be used to celebrate a historic resource but can also often help protect it and open the way to financial assistance for preservation.
The National Register of Historic Places is the nation’s official list of historically significant properties on and off Route 66. The program, usually simplified as the National Register, is administered by the National Park Service at the federal level and by the various state historic preservation offices at the state level. Arizona, California, Kansas, and New Mexico maintain their own state register programs. And taking it down to the city level, many municipalities along the route (Los Angeles, Santa Fe, Chicago, to name a few) have local programs. Most often, local landmark designation provides the strongest form of protection. There is much opportunity to get your Route 66 resource listed when considering all these programs.
First, historical designation brings positive attention to your Route 66 property. It signals that it is important to the route’s history and your local community. And designation, especially under the National Register, leads to potential funding opportunities and a certain amount of protection. Once listed, it becomes eligible for a federal rehabilitation incentive for income-producing properties. Some states have their own restoration tax credit programs that can be used for businesses and owner-occupied residences. Being listed in a register is often a benefit – if not a requirement – for applying for preservation and other grants. Properties on the National Register are afforded some form of protection when part of a federally assisted project.
Being located on Route 66 is a distinct advantage. The history and importance of the road and its resources are already well established. The goal is to get your building or structure aligned with this history. The first step is to contact your state historic preservation office. They will provide you with a preliminary assessment form to determine if your building is eligible for historical designation.
Generally, your Route 66 property should be a building, structure, district, site, or object at least 50 years old (and there are exceptions) and historically linked to Route 66 and retains a certain level of historic integrity. Integrity gets down to this: is there enough original design and historical material surviving to communicate its association with Route 66?
The National Park Service developed the program so that the average citizen could prepare a nomination. Many Route 66 National Register nominations have been written by property owners and advocates of the road. And there is a lot of help out there. Each state has a Route 66 history to draw from. These documents are available to everyone, and have done a lot of footwork for you. In addition, each state historic preservation office has dedicated staff to help you through the process. If it looks like too much work, eager grad students often need a project, and consultants can get it done for a fee.
Historical designation is often a long process. Most state historical review boards have a limited meeting schedule, reviewing nominations only a few times a year. These limited meetings are coupled with internal review periods of the state's historic preservation office or local planning authorities. It is best to plan for at least six months to a year to move through the nomination process, though some benefits are available while the application is under review. Check with your state historic preservation or local planning office about the length for details.
Download the worksheet and research the questions listed there. They will help you set up the next steps in your effort to get a Route 66 property listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
To find out if your Route 66 property meets designation criteria and how the nomination process works in your state, contact your state historic preservation office (SHPO). Typically, they will send a preliminary application form for you to provide information that will help them determine if your property is eligible for designation. Ask for a copy of the Route 66 historic context for your state. Also, ask for an example of a Route 66 nomination.
Route 66 state contexts provide the history, types of historic properties, and themes used in your state to nominate a historic site. Each state along Route 66 has one of these studies. Properties can be nominated to the National Register if they fit within the context, allowing for a much simpler and shorter nomination. Many of the contexts, through a previous historical survey, have already identified eligible resources. Yours may be one of them.
Most state historic preservation offices provide financial assistance to survey and nominate historic properties. Usually awarded as matching grants, the programs are invaluable for jumpstarting your project. The National Park Service Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program has a similar grant program that provides financial help to prepare National Register nominations. Communities participating in the federal Certified Local Government program (Albuquerque, Chicago, St, Louis, to name a few) offer grants to survey and nominate historic properties. There may also be local foundations, associations or businesses willing to help fund your efforts.
National Register designation can serve many purposes, and sometimes it is invoked to help protect a Route 66 resource.
During a mundane public presentation of a forthcoming highway widening project, Marla Larison and Machelle Smith, members of the Kansas Historic Route 66 Historic Byway Committee, noticed something alarming.
Shown on a big colorful map, one of the alternate routes for the four-lane Highway 69 widening project would slice across an area directly north of Baxter Springs — an area containing one of the few intact sections of Route 66 in Kansas.
With Route 66 in Kansas having recently attained historic byway status, they saw the bold red-and-white line of the alternate route had the potential to “cut 66 in Kansas in pieces.” And there wasn’t much to cut; historically, the state had only 13.2 miles of Mother Road.
Larison and Smith knew that putting the short piece of Highway 66 on the National Register of Historic Places would get them a “seat at the table” for consideration of its fate.
Larison contacted the Kansas State Historical Society (the state historic preservation office) and quickly learned the National Register ropes from staff. Though she had never done anything like it before, she “just followed the process,” and the nomination came together step-by-step.
She contacted her county commissioners, getting their blessing before sending it to the Kansas Historic Sites Board of Review for their scrutiny. The nomination passed without a hitch.
“Honestly, I didn’t think it would be approved,” Larison recalled, considering that she wrote it by herself.
The short 3.2-mile stretch of Route 66, connecting Baxter Springs to the famous Rainbow Bridge, was now listed on the nation’s register of important places.
Larison and Smith breathed a long sigh of relief knowing that if the widening project ever came to Baxter Springs, Kansas Route 66 supporters would have a leg up in protecting the historic road.
Reflecting on her experience completing a nomination, Larison urges that “no one should be afraid to try it.
A rite of passage for many historic preservation graduate students is preparing their first National Register nomination.
Laura (Vanaskie) O’Neill, a graduate student in the Cal Poly Pomona architecture and historic preservation program, was assigned Bono’s Italian Deli and Restaurant, a Route 66 eatery in Fontana, California.
Its owner, Joe Anthony Bono, had approached the program’s director seeking help. Bono — a cousin of entertainer and politician Sonny Bono — was worried about a highway project that could threaten his property.
The Italian-American, family-owned business started in 1936 as a roadside produce stand. It expanded over the years, becoming a market and eventually a sit-down restaurant.
Proud of his connection to the Mother Road, Bono worked the highway’s name into his marketing and signage.
After six months of moving through the process, Bono’s Italian Deli and Restaurant was designated to the National Register.
As recalled by O’Neill, Bono felt relieved (and happy) by the outcome. The listing increased interest in the restaurant, not only locally but across Route 66.
For common questions about the National Register of Historic Places – Can I modify, remodel, or renovate my historic house? – the National Park Service has prepared a list of frequently asked questions and commonsense replies.
Follow link to learn moreNPS National Register FAQs
If working toward National Register designation, be sure to read the program’s bulletins. Produced over several decades, they provide step-by-step instructions on researching your property, filling out a nomination form, and placing it within a historic context.
Follow link to learn moreNPS National Register Bulletins
Some may still question historical designation – is it ultimately a government takeover? This quirky article by the National Trust for Historic Preservation plays the devil’s advocate, asking the tough questions and providing solid answers.
Follow link to learn moreArticle from "Saving Places"